Give the man his Pollyannaish techno-enthusiasm -- Hosni Mubarak had quit. Opening a society closed by fear permits dignified dreams, but it also releases Pandoran demons. In Egypt, dirty gamers thrive: Islamist militants, corrupt officers, various terrorists. War and revolution are violent struggles. Digital connectivity without honest soldiers leads to smashed cellphones and murder. We won't know Arab Spring's Egyptian outcome for another two decades.
In Libya and Syria, the tyrants didn't quit. Bashar al-Assad is craftier than Moammar Gadhafi, who threatened to fill mass graves with corpses. In 1982, Syrian forces under Hafez al-Assad (Bashir's father) massacred at least 10,000 rebels in the city of Hama. In that pre-Internet era, the regime hid the killing fields. No more. Reprisal killings now require deft targeting, like rocketing a rebel press center in the Baba Amr district of the city of Homs. Killing two digitally connected Western journalists in that attack (Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik) was a Counter-Information bonus.
Syria, like Iran, has tried to cut communications, with some success, but a full digital blackout is difficult. Its border leaks via Turkish and Iraqi cell towers. But last August ,rebels told Mobilemedia.com, "On days when a lot of people are killed, the government will just shut down the Internet." Syria now screens transmissions. Mobilemedia reported that rebels are afraid to use Twitter and Facebook. Regime loyalists monitor the Internet, identify rebels, then the secret police arrive. China, another counter-information front, has honed this tactic.
"Counter-Information" suggests the Counter-Reformation. Though the analogy is weak, the historical impact is comparable. The Reformation shook Europe's status quo. The Peace of Westphalia (which ended the 30 Years' War and the Counter-Reformation) introduced the sovereign nation-state system, which changed the world. Communications connectivity challenges closed and powerful nation-states. The Counter-Information War will continue.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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